July 20, 2013 Updated: July 20, 2013 at 8:40 am
Just south of Denver, the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch recently announced a major expansion. Just north of Denver, government officials in Westminster approved construction of the Colorado STEM Academy.
These twin developments are a great reminder that our state continues to be a national leader in education in the "STEM" subjects - science, technology, engineering, and math. Our state is replete with specialty academies focused on cultivating young people's STEM passions and aptitudes.
We should be proud of Colorado's serious commitment to STEM education.
However, we can't afford to rest on our laurels.
The competition for STEM jobs has never been fiercer. And if businesses can't find enough qualified workers in Colorado, they'll happily turn to other states - and other countries - to find them. Colorado needs to continue to press forward and find ways of equipping even more local young people with the cognitive tools they'll need to thrive in the modern economy.
Fortunately, our state is about to take a major step forward in that direction. Colorado school administrators have joined 44 other states in adopting the "Common Core," a robust set of achievement standards designed to improve K-12 students' reasoning skills by beefing up math and English competencies.
The Common Core still needs to be fully implemented. By doing so, this state would build on our STEM successes and secure an even brighter future for our young people.
Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with states like Colorado. It is unique in that it focuses on improving achievement precisely in the subjects that can translate into valuable professional skills.
The aptitudes required of students in Common Core build on each other with each grade level. For example, third grade math students will be required to recognize and create simple equivalent fractions, and then explain why they are equal to each other. By eighth grade, math students will demonstrate understanding of the Pythagorean theorem in real-world, two- and three-dimensional applications.
Similarly, third grade language arts studies will focus on describing traits of characters in a story. But by high school, students will have to analyze how an author uses original source material in their work.
Importantly, these standards don't trample on state autonomy. Local institutions are afforded the flexibility to implement these standards in ways that are sensitive to region-specific challenges and resource levels.
Here in the Centennial State, educators are planning on fully implementing Common Core in the upcoming school year. The Core is also expected to be incorporated into the Colorado Academic Standards, which will now include STEM studies all the way from elementary to high school.
State educators need to stay on schedule. Firmly installing the Common Core would ensure the even more students acquire the STEM skills they need to flourish in the 21st Century economy.
Colorado has an exceptional track record in investing in STEM education.
But without continued commitment to improving our schools, our state is at danger of falling behind our international competitors. We'll lose out on new jobs and opportunity.
Implementing the Common Core would further improve student achievement and put the state economy on secure footing for decades to come.
Keith Swerdfeger, a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives, is the co-founder and owner of K.R. Swerdfeger Construction.